by Barry Chudakov on December 7th, 2009

Meta Tiger

As Tiger Woods’ recent accident and mounting revelations work their way through the 24/7 spin cycle, it is time to consider this remarkable saga from another level. Tiger Woods is a case study in having a Metalife and the bewildering consequences that stem from it. After the dust and details settle, this story compels a basic question: whose Metalife is it, anyway?


Credit: Eyes of the tiger, Swamibu, Flickr

Credit: Eyes of the tiger, Swamibu, Flickr

 

Tiger Woods’ Metalife is like proprioception: a coordination of the sense of self and the outside world; Tiger’s Metalife begins where his body meets media. All that we know, think, and see of Tiger constitute this Metalife: The weekend tournament images on TV and Internet, the hushed, adoring narrations of rapt golf announcers, the Buick, Nike, and TAG Heuer ads; the 911 call from Woods’ neighbor, the FHP report and photos; Woods’ alleged voicemail to a mistress; Elin Nordegren revising the prenup; the tabloid feeding frenzy. In the Visual Carnival that is Mondo Media, Tiger Woods has a rich and expanding Metalife. Unnoticed in the brand-damage commentary and moral hand-wringing is that Eldrick Woods is not alone in the Meta Tiger creation and promotion.

 

Credit: Tiger Woods, Keith Allison, Flickr

Credit: Tiger Woods, Keith Allison, Flickr

 

In the 1984 romantic comedy, All of Me, Lilly Tomlin plays a dying millionaire who intends to transfer her soul to a younger woman but something goes wrong and her soul enters the body of her lawyer played by Steve Martin:

Lily Tomlin (inside of Martin): We obviously have mutual control over our body.

Steve Martin (walking wildly down the street, careening out of control): Our body! It’s my body. I’m not sharing my body with anyone.

Passerby: Everybody’s going to be real disappointed.

 

Credit: All of Me, Amazon 6305262225.01

Credit: All of Me, Amazon 6305262225.01

 

The details of Tiger Woods’ accident and what has been dubbed a scandal echo those words. But not in the salacious details; what the Woods story shows in sharp relief is that the Metalife of celebrity entails a shared identity.

In a ‘global image economy’, the body is the brand. While acknowledging that Woods may be the most famous athlete in the world and the greatest golfer in the sport’s history, the curious turn of events—inherent in what sports columnist Michael Wilbon calls ‘a new day’—is that the body who is the brand does not wholly embody (or control) the brand he or she creates. By leasing yourself to image creation, also known as product endorsement, or by publicly broadcasting your skill, you become inseparable from that broadcast image, the Metalife. As strange as it seems, in the Visual Carnival that is today’s mediaverse, the embodiment of a brand is shared. Like the movie All of Me, as Steve Martin and Lilly Tomlin uneasily share one body, Tiger Woods shares his Metalife with those who buy it.

 

Credit: The World Inside the Lens, drikmvp41, Flickr

Credit: The World Inside the Lens, drikmvp41, Flickr

The tool that allows this exchange is the lens. With enough eyeballs and interest the lens enables—and the celebrity becomes—a brand. With a reverb typical of Metalife, brand communications amplify this crowd-sourcing: product endorsement begets audience endorsement in one seamless flow of Nike-TAG Heuer-Buick-Masters. If you are the object of the lens, you live by the logic of the lens. The lens that made you will remake you. Inherent in this logic is lens-based observational learning: I see all and I want to become what I see. Just as Victoria Secret models launch a million flaunting mini-me’s because un-models believe they can become fashionistas, Meta Tiger depends upon our believing there is no difference between his identity and our admiring embrace of that identity. Tiger Woods—like Michael Jordan before him, or Lady Gaga, or Barack Obama—at one level shares his sense of self with his fans; if they refuse to confirm, the Metalife does not compute. Technology today allows us to wear the world: We are not dressed on Facebook until we have fans; we are not clothed on Twitter until we have followers. We are wearing each other.

 

Of course the breathless debate about Woods’ loss of privacy is late and so rings hollow. Does the always-on news cycle that unearthed Woods’ peccadilloes mean he has no privacy? Yes, it does. But in a Global Image Economy where we live the Metalife of Papparazzi chic and TMZingers, privacy is swapped for access. Where we go, the lens goes. Transparency, the Metalife logic of the lens, reigns. Our eyeballs and attention enable an athlete to become a billionaire but since he or she wears us to every game or tournament, like it or not we not only go there, we also end up going where billionaires would rather we didn’t go.

 

Steve Martin: (looks in mirror and sees Lily Tomlin): What the hell are you doing in there?

Lily Tomlin: (face in mirror, looking to heaven) Dear God, don’t you get enough laughs up there? What did I ever do to you?

Steve Martin: Somebody please tell me this is not happening.

 

Today the lens is ubiquitous; our expectations of sight and insight are equally so. We are merging our expectations with the logic of our technologies. This is at the core of Meta Tiger’s current dilmemma. His All of Me includes All of Us.

 

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1 Comment
  1. Seen through the lens of this post, I’m finally a fashion queen, particularly if I’m wearing you, Barry. As Lily Tomlin has said, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.” Yep, she should have arranged an appointment with Metalife.

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